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Writing Poetry in the Classroom: Bell Ringers

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The following guest post, part of our “Teacher’s Corner” series, is by Rebecca Newland, Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress.

Last month I offered some ideas for bell ringers for reading poetry. Below are three ideas for engaging students with bell ringers or warm ups for writing poetry.

Prints and Photographs Division.

1) Let the Music Move You

Play music as students enter the room. Classical, jazz, or other music without lyrics will work best.

  • Ask students to record words or phrases to describe the music. While the words do not have to be positive, they should be descriptive and specific rather than opinionated. This is something you may have to model the first time. Suggest words like “soft,” “soothing,” or “slow” rather than “boring” or “lame.”
  • Play the same five minutes of a piece of music at the beginning of class for a week. Change the situation each day, asking students to revisit their lists to modify or add to them, noting how and why their reactions have changed.
    • Day 1: Play the music.
    • Day 2: Ask students to close their eyes or put their heads down on the desk while listening.
    • Day 3: Pair students to listen and react verbally, then record their reactions.
    • Day 4: Post a photograph or work of art to accompany the music.
    • Day 5: Take a bit more time. After listening, ask students to turn at least five of their descriptive words or phrases into lines of poetry describing the music or a reaction to the music. Pair students to share their poetry and ask for volunteers to share with the whole group.

2) A Place to Love

  • Ask students to think of a favorite physical space and make a list of words to describe that place. Use the descriptive words to write a line or more of poetry using simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, oxymoron, personification, or other figurative language. Ask them to write another line using different figurative language. Ask students to read the lines to a partner or the class who will try to guess the place.

3) Personal Poetry

  • Day 1: Post the following list for students, asking them to record words or phrases describing emotions at:

a time you felt love
a time you were happy
a time you were angry
a time you were sad
a time you were content
a time you were scared
a time you were excited
a time you were tired

They may choose one or more of the situations about which to write.

  • Day 2: Students should return to the list and record words or phrases for one of the emotions that they have felt within the past 24 hours; this can be the same or different from their Day 1 descriptions.
  • Day 3: Pair students to share their lines, ideally pairing students who have written about the same emotion on Day 1 or 2. Their discussion should revolve around examining the language they used to describe the same emotion. Ask pairs to informally answer the questions:
    • In what way is our language similar?
    • In what way is it different?
    • Bring the group together to discuss the benefits and challenges of using descriptive language.

How do you engage students with writing poetry in your classroom?


  1. All ages, I sometimes have used a “mistranslation” exercise with a poem in German or another language they are likely not to know. I asked students to look at the words, feel the sounds–what do you imagine the line says in English? Don’t worry about sense, and it automatically comes. Have gotten some wonderful and mysterious work this way, and students loosen up a lot too. They are amazed at how different their versions are…..Also ask them to put themselves into a painting / photo /picture and write about why they are where they are, what they see etc (senses, similes) , what they’re doing or coming/going from…so many more things I think I better go do some writing now myself..

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